Here are some reviews from our latest shows, featuring comments from local newspapers and members of the public!


THE comedy Two Gentlemen of Verona comes so early in the young Shakespeare’s career that you can imagine him writing it on nappies rather than parchment. The plot – two old friends fall out over a woman + lady pursues her lover, disguised as a man - is ultra-lite and clearly lifted from other plays. You can almost feel the apprentice playwright finding his way as he goes along. But the comedy fizzes with you...thful exuberance and is always great fun to watch. Fast-moving, romantic and funny, it works particularly well as an outdoor summer romp.

In Southend Shakespeare Company’s version, the cornball plotline is transferred from 16th century Italy to another sunny land, California in the golden era of the Hollywood musical. Cornball becomes popcorn. The most joyous moments come when the action stops for a big production number, mimed to songs like About a Quarter to Nine, and My Forgotten Man The songbook of Harry Warren and Al Dubin complements the Bard so well that the numbers might almost have been commissioned by him, and the cast hilariously transform themselves into a Busby Berkeley style chorus. Director Peter Finlay mostly dispenses with scenery or props, and lets the local scenery do the job. There is one delightful exception, a mock-up of a railway track, introduced for the climax. Heroine Silvia is tied to the rails as one of those giant American steam locos descends on her. Other items in the goody bag include Julie Carter’s turn as a strapping Girl Guide leader who accompanies our heroine into the forest, Kim Tobin as a cheeky maid who is a demon at the ironing board, and a troupe of skulking outlaws who are all mouth and no backbone. But the play is largely stolen by Ian Downie, both funny and woebegone, as the clown-servant Launce, who constantly takes the rap for his unwieldy and incontinent dog. The dish-mop playing the dog, Crab, needs to learn to project itself a bit more if it ever hopes to play Hamlet or Lear, but Ellie Cummings (Speed), is a promising recruit to the ranks of Southend Shakespeare Company.

Tom King Southend Echo


This a (belated) bravo regarding the performance of 'Two gentlemen' which I saw in the Library gardens last Wednesday, a really enjoyable couple of hours, and well up to your usual standard.

Bravo again, and all best wishes John Judd

Saw your production at the weekend.

Loved it! By far the best 'themed' Shakespeare I've ever seen. Great ideas and expertly executed. Congratulations to all involved.

Regards, Pat Gunton

A group of us have just seen this play at leigh Library Gardens and enjoyed it so much. Every character good, every word could be heard and all spoken in a way that made all the images and jokes clear. We laughed a lot, and loved the special touches - Charlie Chaplin and the dog, Lady Eglamour, the rail track and the train, and many other things. Congratulations to all and best wishes for rest of the season.

Frances Coombs


At the risk of repetition, Southend Shakespeare Company players are in fine form this week – but then, when weren’t they? SSC’s spring production, the Merchant of Venice, is one of the hardest Bard nuts to crack, thanks to the way it mixes high comedy and sweet romance with a dark and bitter parallel narrative about institutionalised violence and racial prejudice. But director Dave Lobley carries it all off with a balanced production that is full of inventiveness. The humour is extremely funny, (watch out for the suitcase scene, the two security guards, and the blinking idiot inside the casket, not to mention Chris Linnat-Scott’s clowning performance as blind public menace). The emphasis on comedy actually heightens the impact of the ultra-dark central story, in which the Jewish merchant Shylock exerts his legal right to cut a pound of flesh from his debtor, Antonio. Shylock is both victim and villain, but the brilliantly staged (though almost unbearable) scenes of Jew-baiting tend to sway you to his side. Three hundred and fifty years before Auschwitz, Shakespeare is writing what is arguably the world’s first anti-racist play. John Newell does a fine job in making Shylock, one of Shakespeare’s most complex characters, both believable and human, simultaneously vile and vulnerable. The role of the heroine, Portia, is perfect for Vanessa Osborn, whose beautiful voice brings a new richness to the play’s most famous lines: “The quality of mercy is not strained...” Other regulars, including Andrew Sugden, James Carter, Amanda Whiteford, Ross Norman-Clarke (hilarious as the Prince of Aragon) and Madeleine Ayres give their usual mini-masterclass in ensemble playing, and rising young player Megan Terry, as Shylock’s daughter Jessica, can add another star to her dressing-room door.

Tom King Southend Echo>

Hello there, A friend of ours recommended we come to see you. I like a bit of Shakespeare and had a a bit of an understanding of Merchant of Venice. I took my girlfriend, my daughter and her friend to see the Saturday matinee. It was fantastic, a real gem, we all loved it. The actors did a sterling job, all deserving oscars and emmys and a great big thank you. I understand the Merchant of Venice story so much better now, it was brilliant. I want all of your autographs and selfies please. Such a big presence in the intimacy of the Dixon room. It was unforgettable, a real highlight for me, my girlfriend, daughter and friend also. The Bard would be pleased as punch. Please say thank you to all involved for us, my head is still spinning.


Regards Steve


AND now for something completely different. There hasn’t been anything like Cowardy Custard on the Southend stage since Hidden Broadway, a decade ago. If Southend Shakespeare Company’s production is anything to go by, we have been missing a lot. You can see why stage reviews like Cowardy Custard are something avoided even by professional companies packed with egomaniac performers, let alone by amateurs. Cowardy Custard, based on the songs, plays, sketches, and memoirs of Sir Noel Coward, demands very considerable resources of talent. It needs a large cast, ever member of whom must match the Master in terms of the ability to combine singing, acting, fantastic dress sense, great timing and, not least, effortless charm. Without these inputs, Cowardy Custard could have fallen on its well coiffure face a dozen times a minute. The fact that it succeeds so well is down to the skill of the performers, and director Peter Finlay’s stream of innovative touches. These are underpinned by a well-drilled precision that would make a Guards company sergeant-major purr like a kitten. All the most famous Coward songs are here of course – Mad Dogs and Englishmen, London Pride, Don’t Put Your Daughter on the Stage Mrs Worthington, The Stately Homes of England. But there are also many less well-known ones, notably a lovely sketch to music about a dear old long-married couple who actually loathe one another, and spend their time trying to steal their partner’s shawl. The show is also notable for a delicious impersonation of Coward by Jim Carter, capturing the great man’s unique mannerisms and elegant drawl as if possessed by Coward’s spirit. Coward dismissed his own achievements as showing “little more than a talent to amuse,” but there is ample evidence here that he was doing himself down when he said this. The material shows great depth and piercing insight, while remaining constantly and often hilariously entertaining. Not quite all the material, it should be said, is by Noel Coward. Among the many setpieces is Noel Coward’s account of theatre critics’ individual laughs. It was news to me that Coward noted the Southend/Basildon Echo critic’s as, if memory serves. “a thin cackle”. No matter. Twelve hours from Cowardy Custard’s closing moments, this Echo critic is still thinly cackling at the happy memory.

Tom King Southend Echo


NOEL Coward’s classic stage work Hay Fever makes comic fodder out of the manners and foibles of the 1920s, but it is no mere period piece. In the hands of the Southend Shakespeare Company, Coward’s glorious characterisation and almost unique genius for brittle repartee, which first captivated Southend audiences at the Palace in 1925, are as fresh and mirthful as ever. Hay Fever is set in the home of the Bliss family. Mother is a famous actress, the father a successful novelist, the son a painter and the daughter an alluring beauty. All are prize prima donnas who turn their household into a never-ending Punch and Judy show. Into this menage step three house-guests, each of them a prime specimen of Middle England at its most stiff-necked and repressed. The conflict between these two worlds, climaxing in a catastrophic bout of love games and a fractious breakfast the next morning, is sheer joy. Director Ian Downie has marshalled a cast that is beyond praise. Each and every one of the SSC team makes a masterful job in stepping into their Coward character as if it had been written for them and them alone. It all raises the highest of hopes for SSC’s forthcoming review, Cowardy Custard, based on the Noel Coward songbook.

Tom King Southend Echo

The Southend Shakespeare Company

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